The day you bring a new pet into your home is usually a very happy day. You plan for what kind you’ll get, what his or her name will be, and think about all the activities you plan to do. The one thing you don’t usually think about is the fact that you will most likely outlive your new family member. This can be an unexpected loss, or one that is scheduled. Either way… it sucks.
The dog I adopted just after graduating college was so many things to me. A best friend, a protector, and my family. Our family grew a lot over the course of his 11 year life. He saw me get married, and helped me welcome two children into this world.
A couple years ago, I started thinking about what it would be like when he was no longer with us. I cried just thinking about it, so I knew when it actually happened it would be beyond painful. And not just for me. For my husband, and also for my 4 year old daughter who had grown extremely attached to him.
Having a child that’s old enough to notice the loss of an animal adds a whole new level to having to deal with them passing. You not only mourn for yourself, but you mourn for their loss as well. It’s heartbreaking. Having just gone through this with my own family, I thought I’d put together a few tips that seemed to help us deal with the loss of our dog, Scout.
Give them the option to say goodbye
I went back and forth on this one once I found out we needed to put our dog down. Part of me felt like it would be too much for a 4 year old to comprehend, but the other part knew the dog was her family too. I’m so glad we made the decision to let her say goodbye. She definitely understood what was happening, and I know she appreciated us being honest with her.
Let them see you cry
Unfortunately not everything that happens in life is happy. I think it’s important for children to understand it’s ok to be sad and show emotion. Letting your children see you in a vulnerable state allows them to learn empathy for others, and creates a safe environment for them to express their emotions as well.
Talk About It
This was especially difficult for me, but talking about the happier times with our pet seemed to really help all of us cope with the loss. Talking about what we thought he was doing in Heaven, and him not being in pain anymore brought us all comfort.
Get A Book
If your family is like ours reading is a part of our everyday bedtime routine. Getting a book on the topic and reading it with your little ones old enough to understand can be very helpful. I highly recommend Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant for the loss of a dog. Just be sure and have tissues on hand.
Those are just a few things that seemed to help my family deal with our loss. Nothing will take the pain away, and I will always hold a special place in my heart for the first animal that was just mine.
One last suggestion that won’t be for everyone, but for my family it was absolutely necessary. Consider getting a new pet. Not to replace the old one, but to fill your home with the kind of joy that only an animal can bring. For us, that was Hank. Welcome to the family, Hank! We’re so happy you’re here, but you’ve got some big shoes to fill.